The definition of art has been debated for more than 1000 years, and continues to be a puzzle. While scientific investigations offer hope of resolving this puzzle, machine learning classifiers that discriminate art from non-art images generally do not provide an explicit definition, and brain imaging and psychological theories are at present too coarse to provide a formal characterization. In this work, rather than approaching the problem using a machine learning approach trained on existing artworks, we hypothesize that art can be defined in terms of preexisting properties of the visual cortex. Specifically, we propose that a broad subset of visual art can be defined as patterns that are exciting to a visual brain. Resting on the finding that artificial neural networks trained on visual tasks can provide predictive models of processing in the visual cortex, our definition is operationalized by using a trained deep net as a surrogate “visual brain”, where “exciting” is defined as the activation energy of particular layers of this net. We find that this definition easily discriminates a variety of art from non-art, and further provides a ranking of art genres that is consistent with our subjective notion of ‘visually exciting’. By applying a deep net visualization technique, we can also validate the definition by generating example images that would be classified as art. The images synthesized under our definition resemble visually exciting art such as Op Art and other human- created artistic patterns.
Biography: J.P. Lewis is lead researcher at SEED, the new research lab of Electronic Arts. In the past he has worked in academic and industrial research labs, as well as in the movie industry at Weta, Industrial Light and Magic, ESC, Disney, and elsewhere. In the past he has received credits on a few movies including the Plant of the Apes trilogy, Avatar, The Matrix Sequels, Furious7, and Forrest Gump, and several of his algorithms have been incorporated in commercial software including Maya and Matlab.
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